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Develop your leaders, raise their effectiveness

Dr. Bill Howatt

Dr. Bill Howatt

By BILL HOWATT

How do you prepare your leaders to be successful?

Some will answer this question by providing an overview of their leadership development courses. Others may start out by describing their leadership core competency profiles, and then explain how these are used to determine the kinds of programming leaders will be provided.

The above answers can be helpful; however, they’re based on what “successful” means to the leader. In the context of this question, successful implies some defined standard where core competencies and training programs are used.

To answer this question fully it would be of value to understand what successful means to leaders in your organization. Factors often include leaders’ direct reports, customers, peers, superiors, organizational policies and procedures, legislation (e.g., labour laws), OHS and targeted performance results. There’s a way to create a few common threads that influence how leaders’ behaviours can impact their success in all the above factors.

Many professional associations, such as those representing doctors, lawyers, therapists and accountants, have their members sign codes of conduct that outline specific minimal standards with respect to professional behaviour. Members are required to take training on these codes of conduct and renew their pledge to adhere to their standard every year. This may not be a perfect model; however, its intention is to provide a framework that removes assumption. The logic behind a code of conduct is that if all professionals can adhere to the minimal standard this increases the probability of success. Professional skill development and mandatory continuing education help to ensure that members keep their skills current.

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A leadership success standard is different than a value statement, policy, job description, and performance management objectives and training. It defines the minimal behaviours a leader is expected to demonstrate in their assigned function. Success behaviours often require awareness as to what the behaviour is, minimal training (if any) and the leader demonstrating them.

A leadership success standard is much like a professional standard code of conduct in that no assumption is made. It clearly spells out the minimal expectations for leaders that will impact their success in the organization.

A leadership standard does not replace training and development or core competencies profiles. It’s an accountability framework for what leaders are expected to do, and will be factored into how they are evaluated with respect to their effectiveness and cultural fit.

Making assumptions about how a leader will behave without spelling it out can be risky. Consider the professional code of conduct example. Within these groups, most professionals would not enter into a dual relationship with a client before signing or learning about their code of conduct. The code of conduct doesn’t make assumptions; it removes any grey area and clearly spells out the minimal standards each professional must adhere to to stay within the profession.

For context, consider the impact the following behaviour can have on a leader’s success:

  • Telling the truth — This may sound obvious, but some leaders may shade the truth to avoid conflict or to prevent them from feeling bad about telling someone they’re failing to meet an expectation. Consider the impact on you when someone whose decisions impact your life doesn’t tell you the truth — whether it’s good news or bad. One tenet for leaders to become trusted by their reports, customers and peers is confidence that they’re truthful.

A leadership standard spells out the specific behaviours that all leaders are expected to display in the workplace. Facilitating a conversation to develop a leadership standard requires exploring the kind of leadership philosophy the organization wants to create within its leaders. This can help identify the specific behaviours that all leaders will be expected to display daily, regardless of their level within the organization.

  • The final leadership standard product doesn’t need to be much longer than one page that highlights five to seven key performance behaviours (KPBs). These are often written statements, such as, “understand the importance of being approachable and open so that others feel comfortable to share their ideas, ask questions, and seek feedback.”
  • For KPBs that require some minimal training, this would be made available for leaders looking for more specifics (e.g., for a KPB to “be approachable” some may benefit from a course or coaching on body language, how to change gears, and learn how this KPB can impact employees’ health, engagement and productivity).
  • KPBs create the foundation for the kind of relationships that can be formed between employees and managers, which shape the culture.
  • Every leader would sign the leaders’ standard as evidence of their understanding of and commitment to it.
  • All leaders would be expected to renew their commitment each year. This is not meant to be a one-and-done process; it’s meant to keep the social conformity and expectations for leaders top of mind.
  • Any breach would be addressed like any other performance issue. The goal is to coach and correct, before discipline.

Bill Howatt is chief learning officer at Vision Coaching and chief research & development officer, workforce productivity, for Morneau Shepell.

Originally published January 15, 2018 in the Halifax Chronicle Herald.

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